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Cover of Clown Girl

Monica Drake

Clown Girl

  • Introduction by Chuck Palahniuk
  • fiction
  • ISBN 0-9766311-5-6

In this darkly comic novel, Clown Girl lives in Baloneytown, a neighborhood so run down and penniless that drugs, balloon animals, and even rubber chickens contribute to the local currency. Against a backdrop of petty crime, Clown Girl struggles to find her place in the world of high art; she has dreams of greatness and calls on the masters, Charlie Chaplin, Kafka, and da Vinci for inspiration. But all is not art in her life: in an effort to support herself and her under-employed performance-artist boyfriend, she is drawn into the world of paying jobs, and finds herself unwittingly turned into a “corporate clown,” trapped in a cycle of meaningless, high paid gigs which veer dangerously close, then closer to prostitution. Using the lens of clown life to illuminate a struggle between artistic integrity and an economic reality, Monica Drake has created a novel that embraces the high comedy of early film stars – most notably Chaplin and W.C. Fields. At the same time Drake manages to raise questions about issues of class, gender, economics and prejudice. This debut novel is an stunning blend of the bizarre, the humorous, and the gritty. The novel resists easy classification but is completely accessible to a general audience.

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16 April 2013

Monica Drake Guest Blogs for Powell’s Books

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Praise for Clown Girl

Welcome to the book of my arch enemy. “Rival” would be a nicer word, but let’s be honest.

In 1991, in Tom Spanbauer’s kitchen, where our whole workshop of beginning writers still fit around his dinky kitchen table, every week Monica Drake was the star. The stories she read to us … about sitting all night locked inside the Portland Art Museum, alone to guard the ancient mummy of a Chinese empress, staring at a dish filled with the preserved contents of the mummy’s stomach – mostly ancient pumpkin seeds. As Monica talked about being locked behind steel gates and barred doors and bulletproof Plexiglas, the rest of Tom’s students, we’d forget to breathe.

Writing this introduction, I’m not doing an old friend a favor – I’m paying a decade-old debt. This isn’t charity or flattery – this is honesty.

Writers are nothing if not rivals, but competition as good as Monica Drake is a blessing.

Clown Girl is more than a great book. Clown Girl is its own reality.

We should all have an arch enemy this brilliant.

Chuck Palahniuk
Author of Fight Club (from the introduction)

“Writers are nothing if not rivals,” writes Chuck Palahniuk in his introduction to this funny novel, “but competition as good as Monica Drake is a blessing. Clown Girl is more than a great book. Clown Girl is its own reality.” True, but Baloneytown isn’t a place you’d want to live in, what with the desperation, the poverty, the hate crimes against clowns involving “meringue pies full of scrap iron.”

Los Angeles Times

Riffing on language and revising her jokes in nervous flurries, Nita is the most endearingly teary clown since Smokey Robinson.

Entertainment Weekly

Clown Girl is a devishly quirky look at a downtrodden young clown adrift in the hostile streets of Baloneytown. It is a worthy fictional successor to another Rose City female writer’s highly original novel with not-dissimilar material – Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, an instant idiosyncratic classic about freaks in a traveling carnival that was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Welcome to wacky, stressful Baloneytown, where clown prostitution, stoned dogs and fire juggling-cum-arson are the norm. [T]he pace of the narrative is methamphetamine-frantic, as Drake drills down past the face paint and into Nita’s core, often using Nita’s relations with men as the bit. Nita emerges as a fully-realized character, bearing witness to a lot of the emotionally ridiculous and just a hint of the sublime. [T]here is a lot more going on here than just clowning around.

Publishers Weekly

Sniffles, the titular Clown Girl, is endearingly self-deprecating, an oddball comic who masks her insecurity with a show of bravado and, more literally, a crazy array of clown garb. Clown Girl is a polished, quirky and often-funny look at the dark side of clown life.

Winnipeg Free Press

Can a farce involving strap-on “pendulous breasts,” a rubber chicken called Plucky, biblical balloon tricks, a marijuana-eating puppy, clown fetishists and the phrase “EKG=Nazis” also succeed as a work of psychological realism? Monica Drake’s debut novel Clown Girl leads me to believe the answer is yes. Clown Girl‘s pages give off the perfume of sun-baked concrete, cinnamon, turpentine, spilled beer, bruised fruit, piss and clown grease. It’s a sharp and engaging debut – which I suppose is a fancy way of saying I want to read it again.

Philadelphia Weekly

Drake’s humor will strike some as dark, but it would be more accurately described as shades of gray shot through with hot pink. Her Nita is hilarious and poignant, fantastical and real.

The Oregonian

Drake is raising expectations with Clown Girl, a tight, claustrophobic little tale with a charming cast of self-obsessed screwups.

Willamette Week

While clowns are visual creations who rely on their physical presence to ensnare (or terrify) their audience, Drake very deftly translates that physicality to prose – I had the urge to put the book down and applaud.

The Stranger

Clown Girl is sideways humor: social commentary disguised as pratfalls. It’s surely one of the most polished and eccentric pieces of fiction to come along in recent memory, the result of several years’ work by this talented Portland writer. Drake’s humor won’t compute for every reader. Just the smart ones who dig gray and hot-pink neon.

Seattle Times

Drake’s imagination is boundless, her compassion intense. No matter how absurd a situation this antiheroine gets herself into, it’s impossible not to will her to get back out. The strange world that Drake creates in Clown Girl is peculiarity entrancing and wholly, vividly imagined: You can substitute any put-upon, impoverished, outside-the-mainstream or even simply imperfect sort of individual or group for her clowns, or you can read Clown Girl as a gorgeous mix of character study and unlikely manifesto about the artist’s place in the world.

Eugene Weekly

Monica Drake’s Clown Girl is a high-voltage creation. She’s a passionate martyr to the art of clowning in a slapstick world that despises and exploits clowns. She’s hit a rough patch where the pratfalls hurt and the locals don’t get her jokes. She’s Groucho one hour, Chaplin the next, and a hospitalized Stooge or three by sunrise. She’s sad as Emmett Kelly, indignant as Holden Caulfield. Maybe she’s wrong. She’s certainly cranky. But Clown Girl is mesmerizing, drunk on the high wire, gorgeous and dangerous fun.

Katherine Dunn
Author of Geek Love

Clown Girl is an extreme novel – beyond metaphor, a hilarious book that asks the startling question: what does it mean to be serious about clowning? This intelligent narrative always keeps in mind the bleakness and desperation that initially caused a need for clowns, and that they, in their way, embody. Is there exaggeration in the book’s narrator, or in its world, or neither, or both? I found myself asking if I were myself a clown⎯and if not, why not? Caulrophiles and caulrophobes, prepare yourselves!

Peter Rock
Author of The Unsettling

Monica Drake’s Clown Girl is a bright shining bubble of a novel, dark, funny and deeply strange. The writing is brilliant – I would read this novel for the sentences alone – but it is Sniffles herself and her struggles to come to grips with life in Baloneytown that stay with me. The word “unique” is widely abused but I think, for once, it’s justified: this novel is not much like anything else, and all the better for it. A really exciting debut.

Kevin Canty
Author of Winslow in Love